Well we've got 14 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Minnesota Twins.
Lineup: Given the news from today, this is a pretty opportune time to be writing about the Twins' lineup. Joe Mauer, the newest Twinkie to sign a big extension, is the foundation of a pretty solid group that also includes former MVP (however undeserved be the honor) and current Canadian Justin Morneau and a troika of solid hitters in CF Denard Span, RF Michael Cuddyer, and DH Jason Kubel. The team looks to be much improved up the middle by virtue of a couple of solid free agent acquisitions in SS J.J. Hardy and 2B Orlando Hudson, who should both be at least average offensively and provide some solid glovework, and while Brendan Harris isn't exactly a good option at the hot corner, he should be fairly adequate. LF Delmon Young is the big question mark here; the talented prospect has been a dud so far, but is only 24 and so still has a chance to make good on the hype. Unfortunately for his development, he's out of minor league options, which means that he's been learning pitch recognition and plate discipline on the fly at the major league level; if he doesn't take steps forward in those departments this year, then he's just going to be a warm body with a big arm. And that does not a good left fielder make.
Rotation: Francisco Liriano has looked extremely sharp in winter ball and Spring Training, which means that he could potentially give this group the ace that it needs. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano aren't exactly a killer group - they're each cast in the 3rd/4th starter mold, as none have a propensity for strikeouts (Liriano's 8.03 K/9 led the team) and get by almost entirely on good control (Baker's 2.16 BB/9 was the highest among the projected group of starters) - but they should be able to keep this team hovering around average, which with their lineup and division should be enough to keep them in contention all season. This portion of the preview was so short in large part because we contend that Baker, Slowey and Blackburn (besides sounding like a law firm) are all entirely indistinguishable from one another and may in fact be the same person. They even look alike (particularly Blackburn and Baker).
Bullpen: Joe Nathan's pending Tommy John surgery isn't a death blow for this group, but it certainly complicates things. The team hasn't announced an official closer - which for our sanity they'd best just go with a committee, like teams should - but the favorites seem to be Jon Rauch (not because he's good, but because he's been A Closer), Matt Guerrier (who was good last season, but we don't think it's sustainable success; see e.g. 5.5 K/9 and a home run rate over 1), and Pat Neshek (who is good, but is probably seen as too goofy to actually win the job; see e.g. his blog and delivery). Clay Condrey and Jose Mijares both had success last season, so if they can repeat their 2009 seasons and Guerrier doesn't blow up (far from a sure thing) then hopefully they can keep Jesse Crain away from the mound often enough to not blow too many leads. Overall, though, a much less talented group without Joe Nathan. That's the kind of incisive analysis that makes us the 18,488,136th most popular site on the internet. Pop champagne!
Overall: The pitching worries us, particularly if Francisco Liriano's possible return to form is a mirage. The Twins were below average in FIP last season, and need to see some improvement if they want to be strong contenders - particularly with a weakened bullpen. However, the lineup should be good enough to carry this team to a division title.
Predicted Record: 87-75, 1st place AL Central
Beer: Molson Canadian Lager. As the name very subtly implies, this is a Canadian brew, which is obviously inspired by the presence of Justin Morneau. But there are other reasons. Molson partnered with Coors in 2005 to create Molson Coors, which is the fifth-largest beer company in the world and lending an American tinge to the beer (they had to cease their Joe Canada commercials). The Twins analog for this is that they have now tabbed All-American Joe Mauer to be its drink-stirring straw rather than Morneau. Also, Labatt, another Canadian brewery, joined InBev which is the largest beer company in the world. So despite their efforts to keep up by throwing their hats in with an international conglomerate - see e.g. giving Mauer $184MM - they still aren't in the league of the big boys (the Yankees/Red Sox). Plus it's more expensive than it probably should be, which is what fans at domeless Target Field will be thinking about their ticket prices when they're being assaulted by the infamous Minnesota mosquitoes during summer games.